Monday, April 30, 2007
Some people are saying this is the worst loss to the local transportation system since the Loma Prieta quake, which is true, and an easy comparison to make since this happened very near to the Bay Bridge and the Cypress Structure, the mile or so of freeway that collapsed back in 1989. But it's also like saying a twisted ankle is the worst injury you have sustained since breaking your leg.
Being a mere mathematician, I have to say that physics has a remarkable ability to surprise. It's surprising that steel can be so fragile, though maybe not that surprising when you think of how much fuel there is to burn in a tanker full of gasoline. It's also surprising that so much weight falling on top of an elevated structure doesn't send the lower level crashing to the ground.
The good news is that no one died in the crash. I doubt that's going to cheer up tens of thousands of commuters today.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
The thing is, you spot patterns when you read one writer enough, and with Hornby, it's easy to come to the conclusion that nice guys with no ambition are really jerks underneath it all. As an antidote to that feeling, I recommend Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan. With Chronicles, you come away with the view that a very ambitious young man who often looked like a jerk in public was really very gracious underneath it all.
Young Bob Dylan was famous for giving journalists and publicists massive amounts of grief. He tells a story on himself about lying to a Columbia representative when he was first signed to the label. But also among the stories he tells on himself is his love for music of all kinds. Of course he loved folk music. His love and respect for Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk and Harry Belafonte will surprise nobody. It's not completely surprising he could recognize genius that didn't look that much his own talent, so when he speaks of his love for the songs of Harold Arlen or the voice of Judy Garland or the combination of both talents in Roy Orbison, you see someone who understands music on many levels, even on paths he will not choose to take himself.
The surprise of the book is his empathy and respect for a lot of artists you might think he wouldn't know or wouldn't notice or just have contempt for, remembering his withering treatment of the starstruck Donovan in the documentary Don't Look Back. Bob Dylan loved Johnny Rivers, says Rivers' cover of Positively Fourth Street is his favorite cover of any of his tunes. Minnesota native Bob Dylan loved Bobby Vee, who also grew up in the frozen north in Fargo. In New York without much money, he made time to see Bobby Vee and go backstage. Reading his name in the paper felt like being back home. Bob Dylan feels a real kinship for Ricky Nelson, especially when Nelson gets grief for changing his musical direction. He remembers when he started in New York City, playing little clubs and getting paid in free hot dogs, waiting on line with other performers like Tiny Tim.
Dylan's memories are sharp, and though they are of course written by an older man looking back, the sharpness of the memories gives the feeling that he is remembering the emotions of the young man, not sugar coating them to make himself look better. It's a hell of a memoir, and I know I'll buy the second volume if he ever decides to publish it.
Nick Hornby. Bob Dylan. Matty Boy says check 'em out.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
You may be used to pictures of Laura Bush looking... well, sedated, but some websites call her Laura "Crazy Eyes" Bush, and the picture over at the left is the reason why.
I put her picture here because she said something pretty remarkably stupid on The Today Show this week, and I decided to write a short essay speculating on the reasons she said something stupid. It is just speculation, but I definitely put more thought into it than she put into what she said.
Here's a link to it. Enjoy.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Welcome to visitors from Mexico, Australia and Estonia who stumbled onto my daily ramblings. Friday is the day to set the iTunes to random and see what comes out, ten tunes and usually one more as a bonus. This time, the random 10 is truly random, as I didn't have to edit songs to make sure some artist didn't show up twice or overwrite some tune which had shown up only last week.
1. Groove Is In The Heart Deee-Lite
2. Offering Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass
3. Heat Wave Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
4. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes Elvis Costello
5. It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier Tom Lehrer
6. Fool That I Am Etta James
7. Under Your Spell Amber Benson
8. That Day Is Done Paul McCartney
9. River Deep, Mountain High Annie Lennox
10. Soldier’s Things Tom Waits
Bonus 11. Seventh Son Mose Allison
The most obscure artist is likely Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and this is her big song from the musical episode. The One True Living Elvis shows up twice, since he and Sir Paul wrote the song The Cute Beatle sings at position #8. Tom Waits, Tom Lehrer and more 60's soul tunes. All of these things are as they should be.
With the bonus 11, we get the great Mose Allison singing the great blues tune written by the great blues composer Willie Dixon, who was also the bass player for the great Chuck Berry. I saw Mose about ten years back in Palo Alto; in the 50s and 60s, Allison was the epitome of a sardonic style of jazz that sounds very much like it was born in a smoky metropolitan nightclub, but Mose himself was born in Mississippi, and boy does he sound like Mississippi when he talks. I shook his hand and thanked him for the show, lamenting that there was only one song I wanted to hear that he didn't play, Parchman's Farm. He smiled at me and said "Well, Ah haven't played that song in nigh on twenty years."
Thanks again for all the songs you did play, Mr. Allison.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
When away from the math stuff, George's big idea about language is frames. Conservatives and liberals have different frames, different world views, different ideas about what the problems the world faces, and even when they agree on the problem, they will likely have different ideas about the solutions.
Lakoff says it goes back to parenting styles. Conservatives believe in the strict parent structure of family, usually the strict father. It views family as a chain of command, where children must be made to behave and follow the rules because they cannot be trusted to make decisions on their own, but when they have learned enough, they are expected to stand on their own, firm in the belief of the correctness of their training, ready to start their own families where they can now be at the top of the chain of command.
On the other hand, liberal values can be traced back to nurturing parental styles, in which children are encouraged to think for themselves and try new things, with the expectation of support from the parents, both in success and in failure.
So far, so good.
But then we have what happens when conservatives and liberals disagree, when liberals ask conservatives to think in terms of the common good. Why not get out of Iraq and save the lives we are now squandering on a daily basis? Why not make a personal effort to change our lives so that we pollute less and use the world's resources more wisely?
In these debates, it does not seem like strict father vs. nurturing mother. It's more like the liberals are the parents, and the most common conservative response is what we hear from adolescents on a daily basis.
You're not the boss of me.
Much more Eddie Haskell than Ward Cleaver, don't you think?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Welcome to the second installment of They Wouldn’t Believe Me™. The premise of these essays is that some method exists to send messages into the past, and instead of sending something useful like the list of Kentucky Derby winners, I give people living forty years ago information about the next four decades that they would consider nearly impossible, or at least highly unlikely.
I’ve decided to make a rule about sending back messages about inflation. Since inflation is a fact of life, for any mention of some particular item rising tenfold in cost or more, I will balance it with an incredible bargain from present times. I’ve also set myself a restriction that the bargain is not found exclusively at Wal-Mart.
So without further ado, here is a second list of ten facts from the last forty years sent back to baffle and amaze people living in the late 1960s.
1. Dennis Hopper will be a paid spokesman for retirement investments.
2. Muhammad Ali will be the beloved ceremonial lighter of the Olympic flame.
3. Of all the people connected to the Counterculture of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the most despised will be the actress who played Barbarella.
4. Democratic presidential administrations will be noted for their fiscal restraint. Republican presidential administrations will run up massive deficits, especially the ones considered by the public to be the most conservative.
5. While a gallon of gas will cost over $3 a gallon in many parts of the country, the most popular California varietal wines will cost $2 a bottle. Moreover, this amazing bargain wine will NOT be sold by Ernest and Julio Gallo.
6. A president of the United States will walk the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (known as Saigon 40 years ago) in a united communist Vietnam, but still no president will have visited Havana, Cuba.
7. The most popular sporting event in the country will be the Super Bowl. On the Monday after the game, people with minimal interest in football will go to work and discuss the best and worst commercials that aired during the game.
8. The tremendous success of the NFL will happen in spite of no team in either New York City or the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
9. Lying about an affair will be considered an impeachable offense.
10. Lying about the reasons for starting a war will not be considered an impeachable offense.
Also posted on the Smirking Chimp.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I bring this up now because this website (and another I run dealing with more mathematical stuff) gets traffic from many lands. This last week, there have been known visitors from Panama (Hi, Padre and Mona!) and unknown visitors from Belgium, Finland and Peru.
It's not quite as cool as blue air-mail envelopes and strange looking stamps, but when I get my new visitors, I'm going to put up the national flag of each visitor from a foreign land just to say howdy. Howdy! (To my loyal readers in the US of A, fret not. I know that you are still well over 90% of the traffic I get. Yay US of A!)
Here's a link to my contributor's page on Pascal's Triangle From Top to Bottom™, my mathematical website, also embellished with the Flags of Many Lands.
Once again, Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Bienvenidos and HowdyInFinnish.
Monday, April 23, 2007
The brave dog protecting my bike (from me, as luck would have it) is PJ. PJ is a good dog... oh yes, you are! Oh yes, you are! (Wait, I think I went for this same joke in my last dog post. Sorry.)
This picture was taken at my dad's house last Thanksgiving. I have not seen PJ since, but the bike is still working fine. Since the bike is a Schwinn, I call it The Captain, after Captain Kangaroo, who used to do ads for Schwinn on his TV show.
Schwinn bikes are best.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
There's a new blog entry on Smirking Chimp, a top ten list of Evil and Stupid getting together in lots of interesting and ultimately dispiriting ways. Homer Simpson is not mentioned on the list, but really, has there ever been a better fictional example of Evil Meets Stupid than Homer J. Simpson?
No, I thought not.
Here's the link: http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/6974
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Monday, April 16, 2007
In general, the population of blondes on my personal Pretty Girls list is a little sparse. It's not like I think "Ewww, ick, a blonde!", but a lot of women who really catch my attention are redheads or brunettes.
But then there's Catherine Deneuve. I mean, c,mon! There was a movie called The Hunger, an '80s vampire flick famed for a lesbian scene between Ms. Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. Asked by an interviewer about whether this made Ms. Sarandon uncomfortable, she replied that whatever your sexual orientation is going into a situation, if Catherine Deneuve wants to go to bed with you, your answer is pretty much going to be yes.
Not that I have first hand experience, but that does seem an accurate assessment to me.
Oh, yeah, I put a new post up on the Smirking Chimp to the effect that the start of civility is not wishing each other dead. Radical concept, I know, but I just want to put it forward as an idea. Here's the link. http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/6801
Just a clarification for the young people: Despite the juxtaposition of the headlines and the photo, Ms. Deneuve was never romantically linked to either Broadway Joe Namath or Richard Nixon.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I knew I wanted to say something about the passing of Kurt Vonnegut this week. Like a lot of writers on the Internet, I try to say something amusing, hoping to be funny with most of my posts. Writing something funny about somebody who was a truly funny writer is intimidating. I can't put him all the way up in the pantheon of funny with Mark Twain, but with the Americans who came after Twain, he's right up there with Dorothy Parker and James Thurber and his friend Joseph Heller.
Heller and Vonnegut were big influences when I grew up, and all this greatest generation romanticization of war that's so popular gives me a serious pain. The men and women who fought in WW II did our country and world a great service, but even a good war is a crap endevour. My dad fought in Korea, and he hated it. Every story he told was either about the regret of taking lives or the absolute idiocy of Army bureaucracy. As a kid, I read Slaughterhouse 5 and Catch-22 and The Good Soldier Schweik, a very funny anti-war novel from WW I. I grew up with one idea from literature that was backed up by the first hand experience of my father. War is the worst fucking idea human beings have ever invented, and human beings have come up with some pretty bad fucking ideas. I'd love to hear Tom Brokaw read that last sentence, with or without the obscenity.
I can't make a promise to write as funny as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. for the rest of the month, but I can do one thing. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. hated semicolons. I personally use them all the time. For the rest of the month, I'm going to swear off them. It's the least I can do.
p.s. Happy 300th birthday to My Favorite Lenny.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Today we have a new chapter in the continuing story of just how clever My Favorite Lenny was. Konigsberg (German for King’s Town) was built on a river with two islands in the middle. There were seven bridges connecting the two islands and the two river banks, as shown in the picture above. A pastime in the town was to walk the city with the idea of crossing every bridge exactly once; jumping in the river to avoid using a bridge twice was not allowed. No one had ever solved the problem, but that didn’t mean it was impossible, did it. Lenny to the rescue!
Euler changed the city map into what we now call a graph, a collection of dot and lines connecting the dots, known to mathematicians as vertices and edges. The graph above represents Konigsberg. We will define the degree of a vertex as the number of edges it has connecting it to other vertices. Here are the degrees for all the vertices.
Degree(A) = 5
Degree(B) = 3
Degree(C) = 3
Degree(D) = 3
Euler figured out that trying to solve a problem like this was all about even and odd degrees. If every vertex has even degree, we can cross every bridge and even end up where we started; if there are exactly two vertices that have odd degree, we will be able to start at one of them and cross every bridge, ending up at the other vertex of odd degree. But if there are more than two vertices of odd degree, game over, man. That is the situation in Funky Kingstown, and that’s why no one had ever been able to do it.
My Favorite Lenny.
Friday, April 13, 2007
This is being posted because of the silly game of "internet tag" that Padre Mickey got me caught up in. I'm supposed to say six weird things about me and tag six more people, so here goes.
1. I already admitted to daydreaming about driving Frederic Chopin around on the freeway, but then again Padre Mickey “admitted” to posing toys, statues and action figures, then taking their pictures and writing dialog for them. Like we didn’t know that.
2. I wrote new lyrics to the song “Mona Lisa” for Tovah Feldshuh. Full lyrics listed in the comments section.
3. There’s the whole Ursula Plassnik thing; go the Princess Sparkle Pony’s blog for further details.
4. I met five of my closest friends online or through personal ads in newspapers or on radio, including Padre Mickey.
5. I was registered as a Libertarian back in the 1970’s; I like to say I was a Libertarian until I actually met some of them. There’s a reason why their platform is so popular and they can’t get people elected dogcatcher outside of Alaska.
6. I liked Mystery Men. Yes, I’m the one. Matty Boy says check it out.
I tag TaraGirl, Princess Sparkle Pony, JoshSonOfMichael, blog/radio star Dave Johnson, Amelia Rosner and Adam Levy.
My work here is done.
1. Viking Los Lobos
2. I Knew The Bride Dave Edmunds
3. Anna The Beatles
4. Isn’t It a Lovely Day Fred Astaire
5. Teardrop Sea Tonette
6. Too Experienced The Bodysnatchers
7. Novacane Beck
8. Cheese and Onions The Rutles
9. Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone Diana Ross & The Supremes
10. I’d Rather Go Blind Etta James
11. Chi Vuol La Zingarella Cecilia Bartoli
Thursday, April 12, 2007
A big idea that people started understanding when calculus came along was that you could add up an infinite number of things and get a finite answer, but only if the things you were adding were getting small enough fast enough.
The simplest infinite sum isn't listed above, but it's the idea that if I have a bottle of water, and I drink half the water in the first hour, then half of what's left in the next hour, then half of what's left in the third hour, and continue this pattern, I will never be completely finished. So 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + ... = 1 if I add up an infinite number of fractions following this pattern, but if I only add up any finite part of this, the total will be less than 1.
It was well known before Euler that 1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ..., known as the harmonic series, gets bigger and bigger and if you pick any large number, eventually you can add up a finite part of this list and it will be more than the large number you chose. When this happens, we say an infinite sum is divergent. There was a famous family of Swiss mathematicians, the Bernoullis, who had figured out the the sums of the reciprocals of the squares had to be less than 2, so that means the sum is convergent, but they couldn't figured exactly what number the total would be.
It was a tough problem. They were really good. But when problems get this tough, it's Lenny to the rescue! Yay! He figured out the total of 1/1 + 1/4 + 1/9 + 1/25 + 1/36 + ... is pi squared divided by six.
Lenny also figured out that if we took the prime numbers, (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, ...) and then added up all the reciprocals, that series is divergent. The reciprocals of the primes aren't getting small enough fast enough.
You may notice that Lenny looks kinda squinty in the picture. He lost his vision in one eye relatively early in his life, and was completely blind by the time he was fifty, and he kept working! In this way, he was similar to the great composers Bach, who went blind, and Beethoven, who went deaf.
My Favorite Lenny.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
My grandma was born before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk and lived to see the moon landing. I’m now slightly past fifty years old, and while I can’t point to that drastic a technological change in my lifetime, there are still facts about the modern world, technological, political and cultural, that would have been completely unbelievable if I could a message back to people living forty years ago. Here’s a quick ten of what I hope will be a continuing series, given in no particular order.
1. A friendly international soccer match between Mexico and Ecuador will sell-out a 47,000 seat stadium. In Oakland California. On a Wednesday night.
2. Cancer will be part of the national conversation.
3. The sitting president and vice-president will both have criminal records. Their strongest supporters will think of them as good Christians.
4. Teenage girls will use high-speed wireless computer technology to pass notes in class.
5. The Soviet Union will collapse without a shot being fired.
6. The United States will be the world’s largest debtor nation, and much of that debt will be owed to Communist China.
7. There will be openly gay movie stars, athletes and politicians.
8. Half of the Beatles will be dead, one of them assassinated. Most of the Rolling Stones will still be alive, and they still tour and sell out huge stadiums around the world.
9. A nationally syndicated radio personality will be in danger of losing his job over comments made about women’s college basketball.
10. The last two Secretaries of State will both be African American and Republican. The amount of goodwill this will engender in the African-American community will be close to zero.
Note: I do not know the identity of the surprised baby at the top of the page. He (or she) is one of those model babies found on the Internets, taking food out of the mouths of adorable and deserving children and grandchildren of your friends and neighbors.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Excellent alternate choices for Your Favorite Lenny:
Top to bottom, left to right: Bruce, Bernstein, Briscoe, daVinci, Smalls, Nimoy, Sheldon (last name Leonard)
Any of these or others could be Your Favorite Lenny; but My Favorite Lenny is still Leonhard Euler.
Let's start with the Euler characteristic, sometimes known as the Euler-Poincaré characteristic. (They didn't work together; Henri Poincaré shows up more than a century later and extends the work Euler did on this.)
Think of a cube. It has 6 faces, 8 corners (we will call them vertices) and 12 edges.
Consider a pyramid. It has 5 faces (including the base), 5 vertices and 8 edges.
The Euler characteristic says F + V = E + 2. This is true for any 3-d geometric shape with flat surfaces for faces, as long as there is no hole that goes through the shape; the technical term is polyhedron. For surfaces with holes (think of a donut, or drilling a rectangular tunnel through a cube that extends from one face to another), the formula changes to F + V = E + 2 + 2G, where G is the number of such holes, known as the genus of the solid.
You might say, "Hey, Matty Boy! What about a sphere? It has one face, no vertices and no edges. 1 + 0 = 0 + 2 is wrong! Ha, ha, ha!"
You're right, but the shape hasn't been properly Eulerized; we need at least 1 vertex, and if there are at least 2 vertices, then we need edges as well to create faces. Let's pick a point on the sphere and call that a vertex. 1 + 1 = 0 + 2.
Let's draw a Great Circle that goes through that point. (A Great Circle is the largest circle that can be drawn on a sphere, like the equator on Earth.) We now have 1 vertex and 1 edge, and the sphere now has 2 faces, call them north and south. 2 faces, 1 vertex, 1 edge. 2 + 1 = 1 + 2.
My Favorite Lenny.
Monday, April 9, 2007
On April 15, 1707, Leonhard Euler was born in Switzerland. If you are not a mathematician, the name may mean little to you, but he is important enough to us math folk that mathematical societies around the world have proclaimed this Euler Year to commemorate the occasion.
Leonhard Euler (pronounced Leonard Oyler) is widely considered one the four great mathematicans prior to 1850, though he was not on that same list 100 years ago. For more on his improving status among mathematicians, you can go to http://binomial.csueastbay.edu/EulerNote1.html
As you can see, he is honored in the country of his birth on the 10 franc note, making him kind of like the Swiss Alexander Hamilton, except nobody ever shot Euler in a duel; he is almost an exact contemporary of Ben Franklin, both their birth dates and death dates being just a few years apart. He was also honored by the Soviet Union and East Germany, not because he was some kind of proto-commie, but instead because he was important both to Russian and Prussian science, as he worked in the St. Petersburg Academy for Catherine the Great and the Prussian Academy for Frederick the Great. Pretty much, if you wanted to be a "The Great" that century, getting Euler to work for you was a must.
There will be more Euler-centric posts this week to honor him in his tricentennial year, with more reasons why he is My Favorite Lenny.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Friday, April 6, 2007
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Far be it from me to argue with Princess Sparkle Pony, whose blog I link to in my blog buddies section, so I will yield the rest of my time, Mr. Speaker, to da cute liddle puppy-wuppy on the left.
Yes, you're a good dog! Oh, you're so cute. Yes, you are... yes, you are... yes, you are...
I'm sorry; I digress.
Also, no war with Iran, at least this week. Yay!
(Sickly sweet photo pirated from the Cute Overload website, of course)
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
So join with me, everybody! Retreat isn't defeat; sometimes, it's what grownups do.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
I know; what's the point?
Anyway, a new post on Iraq.
The Arctic Tern, a small lovely seabird with long tapered wings and known to some as the sea swallow, holds the world record for length of migration, and we here at Lotsa 'Splainin' are confident that no other species is going to try to break this record just to get into The Guinness Book of World Records, no matter how drunk they get with their frat buddies. The Arctic Tern migrates each year from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica.
Again, William Flanagan: "What? Tierra Del Fuego isn't enough of a craphole for these stuck-up idiots? They go from the number one inhospitable craphole on earth to the second most inhospitable craphole on earth, all the freakin' way around the freakin' planet? What are they, retahded? I got a better idea; just go to the edge of the Arctic Circle and fly laps! What Dumbass came up with the Arctic Tern?"
What Dumbass indeed, Mr. Flanagan? And we will be asking this question again in future installments of Dumbass Design™.
Monday, April 2, 2007
Once upon a time, when we would invade a country or finance a coup, the CIA, bless their miniature hearts, would find somebody to be our puppet ruler, some guy who wouldn't be overthrown immediately. And everybody would be happy. Yay!
Okay, maybe "happy" is an overstatement. The unrest in the country in question was small enough in scale to be ignored on the front pages of American newspapers. Yay!
But in this century, the CIA is having trouble with this. First, there was the coup in Venezuela that lasted a weekend. Of course, we had nothing to do with that. (Tee hee!)
Then there was Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. A-1 first class leader guy! But, maybe just maybe, the Karzai government doesn't actually control that much of Afghanistan. Just a theory.
Then there was Iraq. Hoo boy, was that a mess! (Correction: sources tell me it may still be a mess, the incredibly successful surge in Baghdad not withstanding.) It seems that Donald Rumsfeld decided to make his own mini-CIA called the Office of Special Plans, with a memo that read, in effect: "We're just as smart and sneaky as you poopyheads, so Bleah! We'll do it ourselves!"
And their choice for a puppet was Ahmed Chalabi. He doesn't seem to have had 100% support in "the intelligence community", but Judith Miller thought he was dreamy and she's such a good judge of character.
Did Chalabi take money from Iran as a double agent? That's what those spoilsports in the CIA would like you to think, but they can't even overthrow a fat buffoon like Hugo Chavez, so who are you going to believe?